A client used to give her age according to the number of dogs she was likely to have before she died. Her daughter told me she was “two dogs,” meaning about 60. (I bet she also had a bumper sticker that read, “Dog is my Co-Pilot.”)
I can identify. I’m passionate about animals, especially dogs, and I figure I’m at the half-a-dog point now, accounting for the rest of my current dog’s life.
Thus, at the ripe old age of half-dog, I’m taking stock of my past and estimating my future. It’s good timing, now that I have the longevity I didn’t before. I’m boggled at some of the things I’m discovering—me, with 40 years working in the aging field, feeling pretty confident that I know what’s what.
First, there’s the note I created years ago and enshrined on my frig: “The older I get, the more responsibility I have to keep myself healthy and able.” It means only I can do the basics to stay healthy: exercise daily, eat right, and stay social. OK, I did these things (off and on) for most of my life. Today I’m stuck with the results—for good and bad, but they’re pretty good, so now I’m setting my sights elsewhere.
Second, I truly don’t want to live forever, but I especially don’t want to live any length of time needing assistance. I have long-term care insurance in case I do, to pay for the quality care that’s not usually attainable on Medicaid. But I hope not to use this extra insurance. If I have a say in my demise, I intend to use it. Many others I’ve talked to feel the same.
Speaking of which, I was invited to give the keynote at a caregiver conference a few years ago. My hosts—all women who worked in various capacities in the aging field—took me to lunch the day before. One thing we shared was a love of dogs. Another—and it took up most of our conversation—was that each person intended not to live long enough to need care. We were being practical, not maudlin or sad, in wanting fervently to avoid much of what we’d seen in the daily nitty gritty of old age. Thank you, no, none of us wanted that, despite the “miracles” of modern medicine.
Third, I’m realizing that I am nearing the end of my life. Many more years behind me than ahead. I’ve never felt this before, and it’s not scary; it’s a new stage.
Along the way, I’ve discovered how I want to spend this time: doing nothing, at least for the foreseeable future! I don’t mean sitting in a corner and contemplating my belly button—but doing what I want to do. I refuse to wake up to an alarm clock. I no longer hurry. With a little Social Security coming in, I have the freedom to do nothing special with my time but visit friends, walk, do art, appreciate nature, and read copiously. It may not be what you would do if you had the chance, but that’s fine.
I also don’t want to live with deadlines anymore. And so I’ve decided to just be old, not write about it. (Well, maybe occasionally.) So this is my last column in 3rd Act. Farewell!
Liz Taylor, an eldercare specialist for 40 years, lives in the San Juan Islands, where she is semi-retired. She wrote a popular column on aging for The Seattle Times for 14 years and has consulted with thousands of older adults and their families. Liz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.